During this Holy Week, as we prepare for Easter, nothing is the same as before. We can not prepare to gathering in one building for Easter services, or plan Easter dinner with extended family. But we can still celebrate. It may take digging a little deeper this year to search for the blessings, but they are still there. Please take a few minutes to listen to the podcast and challenge yourself to look at the Easter story in a new way.
Theologians assert that this exchange between Jesus and Pilate is a profound statement about non-violence. (It helps to know that other men claimed to be the Messiah and usually tried to prove it through efforts to overthrow the Roman government through violence.) What do you think?
Much ink has been spilled over verse 38, in which Pilate asks, “What is truth?” What do you imagine he was thinking when he asked that question?
The story of Good Friday raises some tough questions for us as Christians.
Do you believe that it was impossible for God to forgive humanity without the death of a sinless person? Why might that story have made sense to Jewish communities? Is it harder for us to understand now?
What is atonement theology? Is that the only way to understand Jesus’ death and resurrection?
The Easter story is central to the Christian faith, and it is not uncommon for Christians to assert that belief in a bodily resurrection is “the” non-negotiable element of being Christian. At the same time, many young people wrestle with the idea of a physical, bodily resurrection from the dead. What do you think about it?
Are there other ways of understanding resurrection that might be equally valid?
We typically only think of palm branches and celebration. But this study will dive a little deeper into Palm Sunday.
Scripture Reading: Luke 19:28-48
Roman generals returning from battle rode into Jerusalem on their warhorses, celebrated for their victory in battle. Seen against that backdrop, what might we understand from Jesus’ ride into town on a donkey?
Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem on a donkey was a deeply political act. Do we typically think of Jesus as having been involved in politics? Why or why not?
Why does Jesus weep over the city of Jerusalem? In whom is he disappointed and why?
There have been many different interpretations of Jesus’ cleansing of the temple. What do you make of this show of anger and disgust? (It might help to read other gospel versions of the story.)
What might be a modern analog (equivalent) to these actions of Jesus? What sort of actions are own time are as controversial as the things Jesus did during the final week of his life?
Might we learn anything about God’s attitude toward violence/nonviolence from this passage?
We often say that faith and politics should not intermingle (separation of church and state). How does that attitude align with this passage and Jesus’ actions in it?
Grab your popcorn, and invite your friends, family or youth group to join together for a movie night on Netflix Party. Everyone can watch at the same time, and there is a chat box where you can all talk as you watch. Below are some discussion questions and a short Bible study you can do along with or after you finish. (Everyone needs a Netflix account.)
Directions: 1. Download Chrome 2. In your Chrome search bar, download Netflix Party 3. Go to Netflix website 4. Pick the movie 5. Click on the “NP” icon next to the address bar in Chrome 6. Click “start party” 7. Copy URL and email to friends
The Longshots (125 minutes) rated: PG
Sometimes we have to focus more on what we do have and not on what we don’t. Have you ever had to learn this lesson first hand?
Have you ever felt like you were not a part of the “in crowd” like Jasmine? How did that make you feel? What did you do to overcome that situation?
Jasmine was trying to fit in with the other girls. But they kept disappointing her. How do you know with whom to trust? Is it the same or different with adults?
Have you ever been in a situation where someone in your presence was getting made fun of? What did you do? How did it make you feel? Has someone ever stood up for you?
Words can really hurt us. Jasmine’s Uncle Curtis said some mean things about her. Have you ever been in that situation? (Either the one saying something or the one who overheard.) What did you do?
Jasmine hides her insecurities behind books, Uncle Curtis behind football. Why do people do this?
Have you ever been embarrassed by your parents/family? How did you handle it?
Football was a way that the pastor connected with Curtis, and the way that Jasmine and Curtis got close. Thinking about your life, have you ever had a hobby, or past time that has allowed you to become friends with or grow closer to someone? How could we use this to multiply the kingdom?
Uncle Curtis saw Jasmine’s talents before she recognized them in herself. Who has encouraged/mentored you in your life? Who is in your corner, cheering you on in your accomplishments? Who do you cheer for?
The opposite can be true. Sometimes people, especially when they are jealous or out of fear, will tear us down. What would you do in that situation?
What are some examples of teamwork in the movie? How can we relate those examples to real life? To our Christian walk?
When the coach had a heart attack, the assistant jumped in and encourage Uncle Curtis to help out. Have you ever had to respond in a tragic situation? What about what we are going through right now? How have you adapted? You have you leaned on to help you?
Why was Uncle Curtis hesitant to step into the coaching roll? What was he running from? What happens when we run from fear?
Coach Curtis told the team not to celebrate touchdowns. Why do you think that is? How can you celebrate victories with humility?
Jasmine welcomed her dad with open arms. Do you think you would have extended the same grace to him? That changed in the end. Why? Do you think her response was justified? Why or why not?
Coach Curtis said, “If we have heart, we have everything we need.” What does this mean? Where does it apply in your life? What if you replace “heart” with “Jesus”? Do you feel like it is true?
The community gave up their prized possessions to help the team get to the Super Bowl. Have you ever given up something for the benefit of someone else? How did that feel?
How did you view Uncle Curtis at the end of the movie compared to the beginning? What can we learn from this?
Jasmine was disappointed that her dad didn’t show for the Super Bowl game. Has anyone every disappointed you? How did you handle it? This is a reminder that humans will disappoint, but God is always with us.
Bible Lesson: 1 Samuel 16
The Lord sends Samuel out to anoint the new king.
What is Samuel’s response at first to this command? (He is fearful) Why does Samuel responds this way?
What does this teach us about God when we are facing our fears?
Verse 7 is especially meaningful. Read that again. Put it in your own words.
How does this verse relate to the movie?
How can it relate to your life today?
How do you think the older brothers felt when Samuel passed over them and anointed David? What are the similarities to David and Jasmine or David and Curtis in the movie?
Why do you think Saul’s heart was changed?
What lessons can we learn about God and about our human nature from this story and/or movie?
Judas was the one who betrayed Jesus to the Jewish leaders. He had a key role in the story of the arrest and eventual crucifixion of Christ. Was Judas a pawn in this event? Was it free will or predestination? What if he had made a different choice? We dive into these questions and more in this podcast.
Scripture Readings: John 13:21-30 and 17:6-19 (focus v12)
Do you think everything happens for a reason? What situation could arise where this idea may be damaging to a person?
How do we answer that same question from the framework of our faith?
In the gospels, there is some suggestion that Judas was “used” in order to accomplish a greater purpose. What is your reaction to that?
Do you think God uses people to accomplish certain purposes?
How do we understand the relationship between free will and God’s will?
Can you think of other stories in the Bible in which it seems that people do/don’t have free will?
How does this help/change your perspective on your own life?
We spend a lot of time as humans wondering and talking about afterlife. There have been movies and books created to offer renditions of what things may be like after our time on earth is done. But what does the Bible say? What do you think? Take some time to listen to the podcast and read some scripture, and see what conclusions you draw.
Scripture Readings: Matthew 25:31-46; Luke 16:19-31
The afterlife is a matter that concerns and interests Christians and, frankly, most people in general. Why do we suppose that is? How important is the idea of the afterlife to people’s understanding of Christianity?
What does the passage from Matthew seem to suggest about the afterlife? Is that Jesus’ central concern?
There are many images of hell, most of them from literature and other non-biblical sources. Regardless of how we envision it, what do we do with the idea of eternal punishment? How does that square with God’s character?
Similarly, most visual renderings of heaven come from non-biblical sources, and scripture does not paint a single, uniform picture of heaven. What are some of the ways that people define and understand heaven?
Is it possible that, through God’s grace, everyone will ultimately end up in heaven? Why or why not?
The parable of Luke paints a picture of the afterlife in which there is clearly a positive place (with Abraham), a negative place (Hades), and interaction between those realms and the mortal world. Is this meant to be taken literally? Does the author of Luke share Matthew’s view on how these outcomes will be determined?
Does this parable from Luke suggest anything surprising about who will receive blessing and who will receive condemnation and for what reason?
The gospel of John takes a very different approach to telling the story of Jesus, putting it in a category of its own (not a synoptic gospel). It was long held by scholars that John did not use any of the source material (Mark, Q) that was available to Matthew and Luke. Some now think that the author(s) had access to Mark and possibly also Luke but felt very free to deviate in both style and content. Take a listen to learn more about this unique Gospel
Scripture Reading: John 2:1-12, John 4:4-42, John 8:2-11, John 11:1-44
The gospel of John takes a very different approach to telling the story of Jesus, putting it in a category of its own (not a synoptic gospel). It was long held by scholars that John did not use any of the source material (Mark, Q) that was available to Matthew and Luke. Some now think that the author(s) had access to Mark and possibly also Luke but felt very free to deviate in both style and content.
John has many stories that do not appear in any of the other gospels.
John dates to 90-100CE in the form we now know it, but scholars believe there were at least two earlier “editions” of the gospel. It was undoubtedly touched by multiple authors and redactors.
There has been much ink spilled over the idea that the author(s) of John was/were “Gnostic” to a greater or lesser degree. Gnosticism was a competing understanding of Jesus/Christianity that was deemed heretical. It asserted that the imperfect world was created by some lesser deity (in order to explain the presence of evil) and that the true Divine was at great distance from the world. Gnosis was the secret knowledge that enabled people to understand the truth, and Jesus was the one sent to bring gnosis to the people. There were actual gnostic gospels that were generated in the 2nd century, however debate continues as to whether John truly has gnostic elements. This may or may not be germane to the discussion today but this gospel is often referred to as the “gnostic gospel.” The central reason is that John almost entirely avoids any suggestion of Jesus’ humanity, even suggesting that his spirit departs his body before death on the cross so that his spirit never truly dies.
John does not include theology of atonement or vicarious sacrifice that is suggested to various degrees in the other gospels. It is about exalting Jesus and his return to God rather than the notion of saving people from sin.
The suggested readings for this podcast are all pericopes (stories) found only in the Gospel of John. We might take a look at them in order to uncover themes important to the author and his community.
The Wedding at Cana – Jesus’ relationship with his mother, theme of abundance, the idea of “signs” as John describes them (not “miracles”)
The Samaritan woman at the well – relationship between Jews and Samaritans, themes of sin and forgiveness, her eagerness to share her story and bring others to belief
The woman caught in adultery – Jesus’ unwillingness to impose sentence, exposing the hypocrisy of others, note the absence of the person with whom the woman was caught
The raising of Lazarus – foreshadowing of Jesus’ own death and resurrection, one must wonder why such an incredible “sign” does not appear in the other gospels, Jesus emotion toward the family
Today is a holiday in the church. One that not every Christian, especially protestants, observe. It may be one that seems a bit different, even a little odd. And even if we understand it, we may not know the history. This blog and podcast should help you as you reflect today, preparing for the Lenten season.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:1-21
History of Ash Wednesday
The liturgical use of ashes originated in the Old Testament times. Ashes symbolized mourning, mortality, and penance. For instance, in the Book of Esther, Mordecai put on sackcloth and ashes when he heard of the decree of King Ahasuerus (or Xerxes, 485-464 BCE) of Persia to kill all of the Jewish people in the Persian Empire (Esther 4:1). Job repented in sackcloth and ashes (Job 42:6). Prophesying the Babylonian captivity of Jerusalem, Daniel wrote, “I turned to the Lord God, pleading in earnest prayer, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). These Old Testament examples evidence both a recognized practice of using ashes and a common understanding of their symbolism.
The early Church continued the usage of ashes for the same symbolic reasons. Tertullian (c. 160-220) prescribed that the penitent must “live without joy in the roughness of sackcloth and the squalor of ashes.” Eusebius (260-340), the famous early Church historian, recounted in his The History of the Church how an apostate named Natalis came to Pope Zephyrinus clothed in sackcloth and ashes begging forgiveness. Also during this time, for those who were required to do public penance, the priest sprinkled ashes on the head of the person leaving confession.
In the Middle Ages (at least by the time of the eighth century), those who were about to die were laid on the ground on top of sackcloth sprinkled with ashes. The priest would bless the dying person with holy water, saying, “Remember that thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return.” After the sprinkling, the priest asked, “Art thou content with sackcloth and ashes in testimony of thy penance before the Lord in the day of judgment?” To which the dying person replied, “I am content.” In all of these examples, the symbolism of mourning, mortality, and penance is clear.
Eventually, the use of ashes was adapted to mark the beginning of Lent. The ritual for the “Day of Ashes” is found in the earliest editions of the Gregorian Sacramentary which dates at least to the 8th century. Since the Middle Ages, the Church has used ashes to mark the beginning of the penitential season of Lent, when we remember our mortality and mourn for our sins.
Traditionally, the palm branches from Palm Sunday of the previous year are used to create the ashes. This is intended to suggest that even the jubilant crowds on Palm Sunday were ultimately at least partly complicit in Jesus’ death. While the literal truth of that is questionable, the fact remains that even the most faithful Christian still sins and falls short.
Scripture Reading: Matthew 6:1-21
‘Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven. ‘So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. ‘And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.
‘When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
‘Pray then in this way:
Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And do not bring us to the time of trial,
but rescue us from the evil one.
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you. ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
When you attend an Ash Wednesday service (or when you have in the past), what is the tone or mood of the service? What are some memorable moments in the Ash Wednesday liturgy?
Mourning, mortality and penance are not exactly concepts we discuss every day.
What do we make of this idea of mourning for our sins?
Is there value in remembering our own mortality from time to time?
What is the purpose of penance? Is that a helpful concept for us?
Many folks eliminate a food or habit during Lent. Others try to adopt a spiritual practice (or discipline) during that time. What is the purpose of that exercise? Why might we choose to make such a change during Lent?
In the Catholic tradition, confession is offered to a priest. In the book of James, it is suggested that we should confess our sins to one another. Many churches have a moment of confession in their service, and it is a part of the United Methodist communion liturgy. What is the purpose of confession, and does it help anything?
We generally think of shame as being a negative thing, but the idea of shame is sometimes associated with Ash Wednesday. Is that helpful? Is there a better way of naming it?
What is repentance? How does it relate to all these other things (confession, shame, penance, etc)?
How might this passage from Matthew help to orient us for the season of Lent?